I do not have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do wish that during my college-dropout days I had lived in Minneapolis to witness the birth and growth of the Replacements, the seminal indie punk-rock band that captured lightning in a bottle during the 1980s. Fortunately, Jim Walsh's terrific 2007 oral history [End Page 399] collection—The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting—An Oral History—is the next best thing to having been there. Walsh, a veteran music journalist, weaves interviews with 143 people into a highly entertaining, roughly chronological, close-up view of the band's evolution and eventual dissolution.
Walsh deftly shows how the Replacements—a.k.a. 'Mats—emerged from Minneapolis's fertile, exuberant alternative-rock scene, whose members included Prince and Hü Dü. The band consisted of janitor-turned-singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Westerberg; lead guitarist Bob Stinson, a musical savant who wore everything from dresses to garbage bags on stage and was undone by substance abuse and mental-health problems; bass player Tommy Stinson, Bob's half brother, who was so young that he dropped out of tenth grade to play on the 'Mats's first tour; and drummer Chris Mars.
The Replacements reveals how the band attracted its devoted fan base by playing with willful abandon for young listeners who felt like outsiders. "We're just trying to be ourselves with as much gusto as we can," Westerberg said (62). As interviewee Emily Boigenzahn said, Westerberg "just really captured teenage angst the way no one had before" (143). The band's rebellious lyrics and lack of artifice spoke to ordinary people who felt that they did not fit in anywhere else. "They were the best band, ever, basically," said fellow Minneapolis musician Lori Barbero, adding that she knew of at least twenty people who relocated to that city because of the 'Mats; "Everything that they stood for was completely, one-hundred-percent valid. They didn't give a flying 'F' about what anybody thought, and I've always lived by that" (54).
That attitude earned them a reputation as "one of America's most cantankerous bands," said interviewee and New York Times pop-music critic John Pareles (173). Others observed how wildly inconsistent the band was in concert: One night their show would be tight and transcendent; the next night, they would be too drunk to finish any songs, or they might play the same cover nine times in a row. But their paradoxical personae only heightened their intrigue. They were a quartet of self-sabotaging underachievers, none of whom had a high school diploma, whose refusal to adapt to the music market cost them wealth and mainstream fame—yet in 1980 they got signed to the Twin/Tone Records label after playing their first bar gig, and they remained a band for twelve years (with a few personnel changes) until breaking up in 1991.
This historically relevant book provides a vivid snapshot of the 1980s American music scene in general—and the Minneapolis scene in particular—that was, Walsh writes in the preface, "a time when college radio, indie labels, fanzines, and independent record stores supported bands in a pre-Internet underground, and everyone felt some ownership in these insanely great bands" (23). It is a poignant ode to a lost time, when analog ruled, cassettes tapes were the coin of the musical realm, and it took work to hear new songs instead of streaming them instantly online. Further fueling that nostalgia are the book's dozens [End Page 400] of grainy, black-and-white images of everything from concert photos to news clips and band members' yearbook head shots.
Most of The Replacements consists of interview snippets—many one or two paragraphs long—that in chronological chapters propel the reader through the band's history, from their first album (titled Sorry, Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash), to their 1986 decision to fire Bob Stinson and longtime manager Peter Jesperson, to the band's denouement...